I went to my high school’s homecoming football game this Friday. It’s a little hard to believe I graduated five years ago already. An overly sentimental person by nature, I had a lot of feels sitting there on the cold metal bleachers.
Football is not a game I understand particularly well, so I had a lot of time to reminisce about high school. As students filed past, I pictured myself in their shoes—wearing the week’s themed outfit (Friday’s was… rainbow? It was hard to tell) and trying to look cool and stay warm all at once. It was rarely successful. I remember football cheers. I remember frantic Monday mornings when you hadn’t quite finished your homework because you went to the football game and then slept over at a friend’s house and spent all of Saturday in pajamas watching movies. I remember sitting on the floor in the common area to eat lunch (we never had a cafeteria). I remember after school play practice and trying not to suffocate in the hairspray-filled dressing room. I remember the pop culture jokes we told so often that they stopped being funny (sorry, Arrested Development).
I feel a confession coming on. It’s probably not cool, and I risk losing some readers who thoroughly disagree.
I miss high school.
I miss the energy. The companionship. The routine. I miss the rah rah school spirit and the constant activity and the sense that I was always accomplishing something (seemingly) important. Camaraderie. Enthusiasm. A common goal.
Sure, I’m not remembering the bad stuff. That’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? All that drama, all the hurt feelings and vague text messages and failed tests fade into the fog of five years. I don’t remember who went to the homecoming dance with whom, nor how hard the ACT was, nor whether I got nervous before my first forensics tournament.
Senior year, I had a teacher who liked to give us pep talks. One day, he laid down something that felt a little harsh. I don’t remember the exact words, but the point of his speech has stuck with me ever since. The theme was perspective. He told us that in high school, everything feels important. Every joy, every nasty look, every minute activity. What he wanted us to know, though, is that it doesn’t really matter. He told us we’d remember very little about what people wore or whether we got asked on a date or what grades we got. It was all well meant—based on his 20/20 adult hindsight and experience—but I remember feeling like he just didn’t get it.
But oh, was he ever right. As a high school teacher now, I feel a similar struggle for balance with my students. At some level, I have to indulge their complaints and drama, or they won’t pay any attention to me. But everyday there’s a kid I want to grab by the shoulders and set straight with some real talk. Real talk: it doesn’t matter that she Facebook messaged your ex-boyfriend from middle school. Real talk: you don’t use chemistry in everyday life so it’s okay if you don’t get it. Real talk: not everyone is out to get you. I want to tell them that these things don’t matter, that they should focus on the good stuff like making friends and learning to write and knowing how to laugh at themselves. But I know I have to let them figure that out on their own.
At halftime of the homecoming game, the couples of the homecoming court walk down the field in their suits and long dresses while the announcer reads off a long list of things they’ve accomplished in their four years. It’s a hell of a lot. Was I this busy in high school? These kids are National Merit Scholars and volunteer at food pantries and are involved at church and have been on varsity sports teams for four years. They’re in band and choir and they help organize the school blood drive. They spend their summers building hospitals in third world countries.
They stand there in their beautiful sparkly dresses and their crisp black ties and hear someone read a list of things they’ve accomplished. But a question nags at me: is this what they should really remember? Isn’t high school a sunny memory because of the happy times we spent making memories with friends?
The quarterback of the football team was supposed to be on homecoming court, but he’d been badly injured in the previous week’s game and was in the hospital undergoing several surgeries. A friend took his place on the court and walked the field holding an iPad where the quarterback waved and looked on. People cheered in that heartfelt way you do when someone has been brave, and I had to swallow around a lump in my throat.
I wanted telepathic powers then, to beam a message into the minds of those kids: this is what you should remember.
Abby Zwart (’13) teaches high school English in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She spends her free time making lists of books she should read, cooking, and managing the post calvin.